Friday, November 11, 2005

..losing my religion..

I did something today, which is most of out character, although why I did it is most IN character. As always, let me start with a little background: I picked up this book in the library called 'Myths to Live By' by Joseph Campbell a while ago. It’s a series of lectures that he gave. He talks about the relationship between science and religion. What seems to happen is that the more we believe in scientific explanations for things, the less we believe in religion. What he says is that sure that God didn't create the world in seven days and it was probably the Big Bang... but don't discount religion too easily. The stories that we hear as children, the myths perpetuated by society at large all have a reason- they serve as our moral compass. He goes onto find links between religions- rites, love, war, peace etc taking into account Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism etc etc. This really reminds me of the things my mothers told me- she’s a lawyer/historian and she's always drawn parallels for us between the great religions of the world.

So back to what I did today. I started reading the Bhagavad Gita. Its a holy book for the Hindu's. According to the story, right before an epic battle broke out between two families, the Pandavas and the Kauravas- one of the Pandava's- Arjun- asked Lord Krishna why he should fight his cousins. What point is there in winning a war, which would result in the death of not only his cousins but many revered intellectuals and great warriors. Krishna speech to him about the duty Arjun has to perform- and how mortal death cannot destroy their souls is already famous. I know the gist of it but I'm re-reading it to refresh my memory.

After dinner, we sat around the table and Roshni (one of my Indian flatmates) and I started telling Anna (one of the Greek girls) stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. As we told her more and more stories, I started really enjoying going through them again. Anna wondered how we could remember such details- these stories span generations and are a curious mix of fantasy, incidents that might actually be factual and moral code. While we treat most of the leading characters as "divine" yet the stories portray them as very human. Ram distrusts his wife, thereby insulting her and being a bad husband, and she leaves him. He might have been considered a God but he is victim to the prejudices of his caste and does not let a man from the lower caste pray to God as was the custom of the time. The Pandavas lose their wife in a gambling game with their cousins and watch helplessly as the evil cousins try and disrobe her in court, but Krishna comes to her rescue. I could go on and on. We told Anna that besides having heard these stories from our grandmothers (etc) and learning some in school, the fact that Doordarshan (the Indian Public Service Broadcaster) serialized them into a fantastic Sunday morning show has left them imprinted in our memories. You even find comic books of the stories, called Amar Chitra Katha. For children, visual imprints help keep them fresh in our minds.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata no longer come on TV in India. I'm not sure how popular these comics are with the younger Cartoon Network generation. The very thought made me sad and brought me back to Campbell's books. I know these tales are not fact, although historians and archeologists have discovered old ruins etc that correspond with some of the tales. But the thought that perhaps my children would not know these made me very sad. Fairytales and mythologies are so important that we take them for granted. So granted that perhaps one day they will be lost.

They also allow you to debate what is 'right'. Authority is always in danger of arrogance. However, these old Indian mythologies do not try and be the definitive authorities and even when they give an opinion as fact, this is after characters in the stories have raised serious objections and argued about them. Amartya Sen's latest book talks of this quality that captures the essence of being Indian. We all know that India is a rich culture, one that has imbibed much from the various religions we have in our country. His book is called the 'Argumentative Indian'. I went for the book release in New Delhi where one man got up and said to Dr. Sen "I don't see why you called this book the Argumentative Indian, why not the Curious Indian or the Questioning Indian?" Dr Sen smiled and told him "I think you've answered your own question!"

In the end, my point- and I am not a religious person at all- but I do have "faith" (just not in organized religion)-- is that I can boast that I have these opinions because I have listened, learned and evaluated. The loss of religion would lead to a black and white society--- and the excessive dependence on it also, ironically, leads to a black and white society. My only hope is that people can understand the myth behind religion and form opinions taking from them- and not take myth for science (or "law").

I've heard that most bloggers only write their blogs and don't bother reading other blogs much. I hope this is not true because I'd love to hear what someone else thinks of my opinions. And that’s what they are -opinions- so lets not have a bitch fest please!


Eamonn Sullivan said...

I'll have to add that Joseph Campbell book to my reading list. Thanks for the pointer. I went through something similar recently. I'm Catholic, but read several books on Buddha and Islam and was impressed not with the differences, but similarities. There is something deep inside humans that resonates on very common themes.

pakhibagai said...

interesting...its all abt potter and the ring trilogy...thats all the myth generation wont know either of the 2 epics.those sundays were famous ones.

azhagan said...

Speaking of the tv serials of Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana reminds me of those people who would fast on the days these weekly serials were broadcast and broke their fast in the evenings at the end of each episode (amazing, the power and impact of tv and religion)...

Our generation is, it seems, the inquisitive generation, looking for some pointers,some 'meanings' to our lives. Yet, being part of that generation, I do find it difficult to apprehend this world along the religious lines and unfortunately religions seem all too present in a negative way in our world (terrorism, etc)

As the press people/influencers try to replace religions and authorities in providing some explanations and some common sense to our world, our generation, I bet, is all more too entangled and coping with difficulty.

Values and principles of the B.Gita and Ramayana are eternal invaluables.

As for the sad state of this world, the commond thread which binds all religions should perhaps be the main message of contemporary religious leaders.

moonstruck maniac said...

i believe opinions mostly turn out to be some beliefs of the microcosm of our minds. whether they trigger the thought with the right amount of flame is something that disappoints me, and not puts off. religion came out of us, we didnt create it but evolved with it. ramayana and mahabharata are mirrors of our civilisation that prefers to be called civilised, actually it is not. we are passing, and i mean specifically in india, traditions, religious beliefs without allowing our children to be inquizitive, which they actually are, and making them follow. i learnt my bit of mythology from books and magazines like amar chitra katha, chandamama, gokulam and many more. but do the young ones do, they dont coz we dont let em to. and then we have the audacity to call em clueless, mtv generation, cartoon network generation etc. give em a break and yourself too is all i can say.
good to know someone recognises this mahima. keep it up.

mangadezi said...

I vaguley remember parts of the Ramayana from my childhood in Thailand--myths were pretty important there, where I grew up, since there was no electricity (so no t.v.!). But the fact that films like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc. . . are so popular only strengthens Campbell's assertion that humans NEED myths. The stories and the archetypes connect us cross-culturally because they point to the fact that we're all wired in much the same way and that we still need heroes and heroines and stories where good triumphs over evil. I just repeated what Eamonn said, but in a very convulted unfocused manner . . .